Continued from Part Six.
The tea cup is empty, but he continues to hold it – lost, happily, in his reveries on the edge of what was the stage, the royal court floor… He looks down at the cup and then lifts it to toast the great lady from the Saracen world, an unfinished woman who surprised a Queen of England… or did she?
Why am I here? Lady Rab’ya Anouri, the ‘Saracen woman’ wonders, rising to the royal command at the first seat in the Northern face of the floor. A guest in a mysterious royal court, perhaps a literal court to try this downcast man, this former friend and astrological advisor to the Queen, now clearly disgraced… But, to subject his lovely wife to this! Elizabeth, they spoke of your beauty and your strong will, but no-one told me about the cruelty…
The Queen is speaking: “Lady Rab’ya, lift these proceedings with your observations on the nature of the exchange between Lord Essex and Sir Francis!”
Put your self-doubt to one side, the Saracen women thinks. Lady Rab’ya must rise to the occasion… or who knows what will be lost.
She knows that her husband, the Moroccan ambassador to London, needs her to be a key part of a successful outcome. But that task looks like it might involve an unforseen struggle of place and position. She breathes deeply to steady her nerves, in the manner the Sufi master taught her, and speaks in a clear and musical stream:
“In my experience of the Saracen world, Your Grace, such simple skirmishes are the prelude to a deeper struggle.” She feels this is the right tone and knows she must let the Queen paint her guest’s role on this complex stage of minds and hearts. There is no threat to her… yet all are subject to the whims of what she now sees is a Sovereign to be feared as well as loved.
The Queen looks pleased with her honoured guest’s response. Perhaps the slight nod of her head is to be their code of approval?
“Such wisdom, Lady Rab’ya. How you see through my simple ruses!
Lady Rab’ya senses the way in which she must respond, then bows before speaking.
“Not so simple, Your Grace. The sovereign who stood before the Spanish Armada, unafraid, controls a complex country using a deep and wise mind.”
Lady Rab’ya looks at Frances Walsingham and Robert Cecil, who also incline their heads in the same subtle gesture. They are secretive, these English, but they have a code… Learn it fast, she scolds herself. This is no place for a girl!
Letting the tension flow away with the next out-breath, she adds, provocatively, to her praise:
“And knows when to listen to wise counsel…”
It is, perhaps, an advance too far… But no…
The Queen nods her head slowly, moving on… then gazes into the newly defined ocean of the Court Floor, before speaking.
“Lady Arabella,” she says, directing her attention to the secretive Spanish lady rising to her feet near the end of the Southern face of the court. “you have served this island realm with much bravery in the name of peace between our Kingdoms, can you calm these waters?”
And so it progresses… The Saracen lady seats herself quietly, glad that she has passed the first test. But now that royal gaze has left, she can take time to study the accused–this John Dee, a Doctor of learning… to a very high degree, she suspects.
The Queen initiates a more complex move on this board of life and death. Sir Walter Raleigh is instructed to bring both his charges – Dr Dee and the Jesuit priest- to the East of the court floor. They stand a few feet from the seated Saracen woman, who studies both with the techniques taught her in childhood. Don’t see with reaction… dig beneath and find what provokes…take yourself away…
Sir Walter is uneasy. “Your Majesty, we await your command.” he says, involuntarily adding himself to the accused, though he knows this is unlikely to be the grouping. “You know that these actions place me in a position of great uncertainty…”
As are we all, Sir Walter, thinks the Saracen woman, watching The Queen, intently, while appearing to direct her gaze downward.
“Has it robbed you of the familiar, Sir Walter?” asks The Queen with a smile that freezes. “I know the chill of that! If I ask you to share it with me for a short time it is because I have deep need of your personal magic.”
At the word ‘magic’ Dr Dee stiffens, and pulls his tall frame straight, breathing courage. To Lady Rab’ya’s right, Mistress Dee shuffles her feet in anguish.
“Magic, your Majesty?” Dr Dee asks, in a voice that is shaky but filled with depth. “Am I to be tried for the practice of magic?” It is a brave thing to say, especially in one so clearly set up to be the victim… but perhaps he is not the only one?
The Queen studies the good Doctor with narrowed eyes. “Dr Dee, I am told your house in Mortlake is in ruins. How should I trust a man who could let this happen with the handling of magic?”
His home… the poor man’s home… Her fire sears, thinks Lady Rab’ya. Let me not find myself the wrong side of that flame…
Sir Walter Raleigh tries to help Dr Dee, but is dismissed. With me, the royal gaze hisses…
In her calm mind, unbidden, Lady Rab’ya sees the image of a knife…. It is The Queen’s, she thinks, and she means to have first blood…
“Your Majesty, why am I here?” This time it is the calm and rather small voice of the Jesuit, John Gerard; the most hunted man in England according to others… and then the court explodes with rage, with Robert Cecil, newly appointed First Minister to the Sovereign, standing and shouting abuse at the priest.
“You should not be here!” he rages. “You should be in the Tower where my father had you imprisoned and from which, in league with your Catholic friends – and the devil – you managed to escape!”
From the other side of the startled Queen, Frances Walsingham – her new spymaster – stands and puts her hand over the outline of a thinly concealed dagger, sewn into the fabric of her tunic. “Your Grace, let me end this torment for you, now. Loftier demands than the Jesuit’s traitorous life should occupy your mind – especially when you are so shaken by the vision you have seen!”
The Saracen eyes watch as Frances Walsingham and Robert Cecil are seated, leaving the silent Queen filled with quiet rage. The Sovereign prolonges the silence; then, from those fiery depths, she plucks a masterpiece of action. Directing all her attention at Dr John Dee, she asks, in an impossibly polite voice:
“Dr Dee, there is value in these arguments. Would you like to end the life of this priest, who my two most trusted statesmen say is a sworn enemy of England?” To add to the tension she directs Frances to hold the knife blade to the Jesuit’s throat.
The immobilised John Gerard, realising he has been tricked – and by the Sovereign – wails:
“But, Your Grace! You promised me safe passage through your royal court and…” He points to the court floor. “…across the seas!”
The Queen’s eyes are those of a cobra, fixed on its prey, though the prey may be bait.
“We live in uncertain times Father Gerard. Be grateful for uncertainties… they can become friends.” She turns to the former Royal Astrologer. “Dr Dee, Father Gerard’s life is in your hands. Condemn the priest, now, and I will have Frances execute him.”
Dr John Dee hangs his shaking head. “How can I condemn a man whose crime I do not know? Where is the justice in that, Your Grace? If the son and the daughter of your fiercest protectors consider him guilty, what is my part in this?”
It is a good answer, and only the hint of incoming gentleness in The Queen’s eyes causes Lady Rab’ya’s intense concentration to waver. Has she been wrong about this woman? Is there an intent at work, here, one whose depth would rival anything she has seen in the politics of the mighty Saracen world?
The Queen leans forward to point to the large bag of gold doubloons on the small table before her. “They are yours, Dr Dee, if you will condemn this priest. There is more than enough to rebuild your home in Mortlake and restore your English fortunes.
What did you do, Dr Dee? Thinks Lady Rab’ya.
Before his eyes, Dr John Dee is seeing a darker magic than any in which he has ever dabbled. With a single action he could restore his life to be as it was… perhaps. But it would not be his, and his soul would certainly not live there. All this Lady Rab’ya sees, resolving that she will help this man… this good man, despite the risk to her own position, and that of her esteemed husband; who now shouts in the back of her mind: headstrong woman, I did not ask this!
The silence condemns Dr Dee and frees the Jesuit, who is dismissed, with royal protection renewed, from the Court and from the presence of the head-bowed Dr Dee – standing like a chastised schoolboy in front of his Queen.
Mistress Dee is sobbing and it is perhaps this, thinks the Saracen woman, that makes them all miss the fact that the reprieved Jesuit has not left the court, but taken his seat again in the now-empty West of the Court floor.
Other parts in this series:
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.
His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.
You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.